The Church, Economics, and Migration: God Crosses Borders
by Harold J. Recinos
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The late 20th and early 21st centuries show post colonial migrants onthe move around the globe and taking up residence in places other than where they were born.
The emerging multicultural age in the United States and Europe appears to have fostered increased racism and xenophobia, rather than an enriching intercultural exchange. In the post-9/11world of the United States and European societies, racist nationalist discourse and xenophobia have normalized the view that migrants are both an economic drain and a national security threat to host societies. As migrants were defined as a security threat to the social body, a new cultural racist discourse arose to legitimatize hostility and discrimination toward those considered culturally different and unassimilable.
While the internationalized economy promotes global migration, the politics of exclusion of migrants in developed countries is daily fueled by politicians, media personalities, private organizations, and nation-state policies, whose conventional migration discourse has largely moved away from human rights concerns. Because migrants are largely perceived as a threat to a receiving country's population, the fear projected on newcomers justifies relational systems of exclusion, racial hatred, social hostility, and tragic immigration policies. The reality of migration cannot be separated from the imperatives of a global capitalist system that crosses borders into poor nations to unfold questionable market-driven strategies of development based on foreign capital and investment. Meanwhile, people who live in the crucifying economic conditions created are largely kept from migrating to find work and a better life. Instead of demonizing those migrant newcomers or undocumented immigrants who manage to cross their borders in search of a better life, we should make connections between migration and global economic practices as well as see newcomers as human beings who make society a better place for all.
In particular, church leaders ought to challenge a public that generally views immigrants with hostility due to their complexion, limited English-speaking abilities, or cultural traditions different from the Judeo-Christian heritage of North Atlantic societies. In the United States, the campaigns that blame immigrants for job losses, declining wages,crime, and public health crises, must be contested by alternative thinking. The task is to unmask the core reasons for the US population's sense of vulnerability. The real reasons are downsizing,outsourcing, stagnant wages, labor union decline,war costs, the steady loss of medical and retirement benefits, and the unprecedented transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich facilitated by White House policies. In the United States and Europe, ablame game focused on postcolonial migrants assures that state economic policy and the inequalities produced by global capitalist structures are excused. Targeting noncitizens for discrimination due to the color of their skin or religious orientation only erodes social unity and fails to focus attention on the rise of an ugly imperial globalization.
In our racially divided world, theology rooted in the reality of migrants declares that Jesus came into the world to comfort the despised, love his enemies, reject exclusionary practices, defend the poor, heal the sick, feed the hungry, feast with strangers, disclose a God of radical welcome, and die in order to save us. Jesus, who lived vulnerably for God's reign, appeared to disciples on the road to Emmaus in the form of a stranger, demonstrating by the redemption realized on the cross that God is ultimately intolerant of our fatal divisions. We have a choice either to surrender to idols of death or to embrace the God of life who is good news for our shared creation. In the confidence of God's coming future, the task of the church is to stay close to noncitizen strangers who yearn for social justice, acceptance, inclusiveness, and human dignity.
In a world that hates strangers, Christians should consider deeply the miracle of God's imagination that sends a Savior into the world by way of a homeless family: Jesus, a truth-teller who shatters the cultural system of lies that encloses migrants with injustice, hate, violence, and exclusion; Jesus, a child of color who grows up to live for others all the way to the cross. The tortuous histories of dehumanization and exploitation linking the world in a common time and unequal experiences of power urge Christians to hear Jesus' cry from the cross as a plea for human beings to move beyond their separating practices and closer to a life together freed by the reconciling union of God. Surely a theology from the reality of migration requires the church to seek a future where diverse cultural voices can speak and be heard; a future where struggles for justice and peace enable us to see ourselves as a new community; a future committed to action that relieves the pain of crucified migrants being crushed by anti-immigrant practices, discourses, and economic injustices.
Today the church's theology of migration is complete when social rules are changed to favor the least among us, strangers defended, and anti-immigrant organizations, cultural rules, and legal systems confronted for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ. A theology of migration declares for God that the world is indivisible and Christians can do no less than love those whom God never turns away. When the church breaks bread with strangers it says no to power elites who turn newcomers away; it challenges cultural racist and xenophobic citizens too blinded by fear to see Christ in the face of migrants; and it refuses to remain silent about border violence and social practices that seek to protect the boundaries of white privilege and empire building.
North Atlantic Christians should remember God calls on them to respond to strangers with the compassion God showed enslaved Hebrews, "You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19).
Let us not forget what Matthew observed of Jesus, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 25:35-36). In short, noncitizen strangers or migrants are nothing less than a locus theologicus, a context and source for deepening the theological self-understanding and ministry of the church.
Postcolonial migrants bear the marks of our crucified Lord in their own flesh; therefore, Christians are called to work tirelessly for life-giving justice, peace, and community. As you think about migrants-people freezing on mountains, or dying in the desert, or crossing an ocean, or huddled in the dark of a tractor trailer, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).Download this paper in print-friendly PDF format (4pp, 184K).